Alaska state-owned corporation intends to spend $7 million in 2024 on Ambler Road

By James Brooks/Alaska Beacon

This map, taken from the supplemental environmental impact statement for the Ambler Road project and published by the Bureau of Land Management on Oct. 13, 2023, shows the three primary alternatives for the project, not including the no-build alternative. (Bureau of Land Management image)

Executives at Alaska’s state-owned development bank say they will advance plans for a 211-mile mining road in Northwest Alaska despite the objections of a landowner in the path of the road.

On Thursday, the board of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority voted unanimously to approve $6.95 million for work on Ambler Road in 2024. 

That figure will be matched by Ambler Metals LLC, a firm with holdings in the broad mineral belt that the road is intended to reach.

By the end of 2024, AIDEA and Ambler Metals will have spent $54 million on the road effort, according to budget documents prepared ahead of the meeting.

Board member Albert Fogle said the Ambler Access Project and a separate effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling are “near and dear to my heart” and that the corporation should “really push the envelope on getting those developments.”

“If that means going above and beyond, we need to do it. I mean, take some dozers and drills and make it happen,” he said.

Board chair Dana Pruhs echoed that support.

“There’s a lot of opportunity on our plate, and I look forward to progressing all of it. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it, so we’ll just keep pushing forward,” he said. 

The vote on the Ambler Road budget followed a decision earlier this month by Doyon Ltd. to suspend work with AIDEA, citing “poor treatment.”

Doyon-owned land lies in the path of the top two preferred routes for Ambler Road; a third option, identified in a federal analysis earlier this fall, crosses land where Doyon owns subsurface rights but not rights to the surface.

The company’s CEO, Aaron Schutt, declined comment when reached by phone this week and referred to the company’s prior public statements.

Formally, Doyon has not taken a position for or against the road, but it has repeatedly raised concerns about the project, saying that its shareholders must benefit from the project.

Doyon owns land covering 10-12 miles of the proposed 211-mile route, and Doyon land had been envisioned as the site of gravel pits needed for the road. Advancing the project without Doyon support will be difficult, though not impossible, based on maps included in the federal analysis.

Doyon sued AIDEA in mid-September over a separate issue involving the Mustang Pad, an AIDEA-funded oil development project on the North Slope.

AIDEA is preparing to sell the subsidiary that owns Mustang, but Doyon has a use agreement with the pad’s operator.

AIDEA claims in legal filings that it is not party to that agreement, while Doyon claims it is owed more than $2 million by AIDEA.

AIDEA CEO Randy Ruaro told board members that he believes Doyon’s decision to end its cooperation agreement with AIDEA on Ambler Road was motivated by the conflict over Mustang.

“(Schutt) made it clear that Doyon was not fully supportive of (Ambler) and then, in subsequent meetings, in order for Doyon to be supportive of the project, or even have an option to be supportive, that there needed to be other positive things happen,” he said.

Ruaro said he’s not willing to compromise on Mustang for Ambler Road support, and that because AIDEA is a public corporation, it may not be legal to do so.

“I repeatedly have told him that we do not … basically horse-trade between issues,” Ruaro said. “We’re not going to tie different things together and try to trade off support for Ambler Road.”